The main characters are three intellectuals, two editors and one much younger consultant for a publishing house that publishes material dealing---among other things---with occult and esoteric knowledge. They make up a game that emulates the very special reasoning processes they have learned from certain of their more eccentric authors. Using their combined learning plus one of those newfangled computers they had back in the mid 1980's, they develop a complete history of the world by a process of connecting bits of arcane information, actual historical fact, and any number of handy fictions and half-baked hypotheses. Among much else, they learn that once you begin to synthesize...uh, anything really (including "Minnie Mouse is Mickey Mouse's Fiance"), a startling pattern emerges! And when you put the patterns together, the dots all connect!
Everything proves everything else!
It's a dangerous game, it turns out: perhaps the most dangerous game, having the potential to destabilize reality itself, not to mention their personal safety and mental and physical health.
Is all of western history a creation of, or a response to, the secret machinations of a certain Secret Society dating back to the Middle Ages? If so, what secret were they guarding and where are they now? If three men make up a theory of the world that explains everything, is the theory true? Is everything connected? And does everything have something to do with the Templars?
Before we all become too credulous---before we give credence to too many synthesized versions of history or reality----we should all read it, probably again and again. Actually I do read it again and again. It's entertaining. It's extremely funny. But it is also terrifying. Among other things, the novel illustrates the type of process used in the generation of a certain genre of books which purport to shed new light on old questions (including some of which I am personally rather fond).
Here's the bit of dialogue that I make myself reread periodically, even though I naturally have decided ignore its implications; it would not be possible for me to go on blogging otherwise.
DAMOZEL: "What's a moron, Professor Belbo?"
PROFESSOR BELBO, IN BETWEEN DRINKS AT PILADE'S BAR, ANSWERS:
"Morons...get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, and therefore cats bark. Or that all Athenians are mortal, and all the citizens of Pireaus are mortal, so all the citizens of Pireaus are Athenians... Morons will occasionally say something that's right, but they say it for the wrong reason....
"All great apes evolved from lower life forms, man evolved from lower life forms, therefore man is a great ape."
\"Not bad. In such statements you suspect that something's wrong, but it takes work to show what and why. Morons are tricky....[T]he moron reasons almost the way you do; the gap is infinitesimal. A moron is a master of paralogism. For an editor, it's bad news. It can take him an eternity to identify a moron. Plenty of morons' books are published, because they're convincing at first glance. An editor is not required to weed out the morons. If the Academy of Sciences doesn't do it, why should we?"
"Philosophers don't either. Saint Anselm's ontological argument is moronic, for example. God must exist because I can conceive him as being perfect in all ways, including existence. The saint confuses in thought with existence in reality."
"True, but Gaunilon's refutation is moronic, too. I can think of an island in the sea even if the island doesn't exist. He confuses thinking of the possible with thinking of the necessary....And God loves every minute of it. He chose to be unthinkable only to prove that Anselm and Gaunilon were morons. What a sublime purpose for creation, or, rather, for that act by which God willed Himself to be: to unmask cosmic moronism."
Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (BALLANTINE BOOKS 1990) at 56-57.
DAMOZEL: What's a lunatic?
"It's two o'clock, Pilade's about to close, and we still haven't got to the lunatics."
"I'm getting there. A lunatic is easily recognized. He is a moron who doesn't know the ropes. The moron proves his thesis; he has a logic; however twisted it may be. The lunatic, on the other hand, doesn't concern himself at all with logic; he just works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idee fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars."
Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (BALLANTINE BOOKS 1990) at 57-58
Highly, highly recommended. In addition to these three characters---who in the process of imaginatively making over the history of the world go a bit too far in experimenting with the lunatic's methods--- everything, including (but not limited to): mediavel history, alchemy, kabbalah, John Dee, Nicolas Flamel, publishing, Brazilian culture, syncretic religion (voodoo and candomble), Rosicrucians, Masons, the Albigensien crusade, Cagliostro, spiritualism, Atlantic, the hollow earth theory, the Priory of Sion, and---of course---the Templars. Especially the Templars.
In addition to everything else, it's a book about The Da Vinci Code, or its theoretical underpinnings, even though it was written long before it.
It is a mine of information you probably did not know. But it is also a novel. Despite their formidable intellects, the main characters are likable. They pull you right in.
CAVEAT: This book is not exactly light summer reading. It is intellectually challenging and demands a great deal of the reader. It's well worth the effort, and is a hell of a ride once you get into it, but it isn't the best book for reading while you supervise the kids at the swimming pool. It requires concentration.
Furthermore, it WILL get you thinking about the Templars. You may even end up feeling that they have something to do with everything. And you know after reading this where that leads. Proceed at your own risk. You have been warned.